It's not always possible to recall specific ideas or suggestions made in the course of a lesson, so I do use diaries in different ways, depending on the needs of the student.
Seeing the wood for the trees...
Some students are brilliant at writing their own practice notes. I consider it a big success when I have become redundant in that respect; independent learners are keen and willing - and that's good. Sometimes, however, students find the writing difficult or time consuming, so it may be quicker and easier for me to make suggestions for practice at home and jot them down myself. In an ideal world, all teachers would have time to write down specific points for practice, but it isn't always possible. Peripatetic teachers in schools have the hard job of fitting this in despite only having a good fifteen minutes of a twenty minute lesson (if they're lucky),what with time taken for the pupil to get to the lesson and back to class, sort their music and instrument out etc. They have my admiration - you have to be so focused and make every minute count. No wonder if a pupil brings back a diary with not much written in it at all. The emphasis should be on enjoyment in playing, but there should be short and longer term goals clearly defined in the lesson too.
Those of us in the enviable position of being our own 'timetable' bosses...how do we know if the student is following the diary? Maybe:
- progress is clearly evident in the next lesson or over a series of lessons
- pupils respond to notes in the diary or jot down ideas/comments
- they comment on what went well, or what didn't, or on something they didn't understand/couldn't remember
- parents use the diary as a means of communication too
Adults are usually very highly 'self' motivated learners. But what happens when the progress of a younger student suggests that practice is not going on with specific goals in mind? Taking into account that a practice diary should be a means of reflection as well as that by which we make objectives for progress and improvement, I usually find that another chat about its purpose works wonders. I also find that encouraging them to feed back on aspects of their work is successful, even if it's just a smiley face when something has gone particularly well. Giving ownership of the learning process is empowering for the student. Sometimes I offer a 'week to view' format; some students have actually asked for this as it helps to see 'little and often' and fits in with other homework timetables. I've been known to slip in a crafty 'tick this box if you're reading this diary' ... much to the amusement of those who do take notice and the shame of those who don't!
Be S.M.A.R.T. in the diary: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-scaled.
Mass produced or home-grown?
What kind of diary to use then? Some students bring their own and look after them, some don't (see below). There are ready-made varieties, such as Paul Harris's version (published by Musicians' Union) and based on his Simultaneous Approach to music learning. This is a two-way diary; some students are better at colouring in the progress 'faces' and boxes at the bottom than others, but there are some fun games too. I have found that home-made jobs from exercise books have proved the best, because you can adapt them for your own needs - concept mapping, a sentence for scales and exercises, 'focus on these bars' etc. and they are cheaper than published versions. There are some students who do respond best to a prescriptive day-by-day approach.
If we are making our teaching pupil-centred, we find a way to adapt to their needs, and that includes ways of structuring practice. And of course, there must be stickers! Hurrah for stickers - in the diary, on the cover, on their sweatshirt, wherever...build up a collection and keep the best glitzy music ones for excellent attention to practice tips!
My dog ate my diary/It fell down the loo/I lost it on the bus...
Never mind, here's another...